It takes two perfect people to have the perfect relationship. Some spouses will compliment the other one saying that the other person’s perfection makes it happen. That sounds sweet, but it is not entirely accurate when humanity is involved. But not so if one is divine. But if one is divine and changes the setting for the human involved then the whole dynamic is different. Grace tends to do that.
A prime example for one who could see the kingdom of God for all it is as part of long-term called out community of God was someone who was “full of grace”. This is why the first person in this “micro-church” I will address is Mary of Nazareth. For a teenage girl, she had a lot to say because she was “full of grace” and was a daughter of Zion. Such is the case in the Bible when one comes to Mary.
Here we see the most perfect collaboration between the infinite God, through an angel, and a finite, specially touched human. She was specifically a young woman in an age where women were not highly esteemed. But in relationship to God, she is empowered in a faith journey that is not for cowards of either gender. She had faith and knew what it was to step up in courage.
There is another part to the historical backdrop in the Bible before getting to Mary: unfaithfulness. God’s people in the Old Testament were described as unfaithful with those who struggled righteously and unrighteously living one day at a time. God starts things anew with someone in Mary that had a context of being faithful to God and called to be on the offense just like what light does with darkness.
“And he [Gabriel] came to her and said, ‘Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!’ But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.”(Luke 1:27-33).
Hail— The “Hail” is not a casual “hi”. If one looks at the correspondence of the first century between highly esteemed officials, this word is used only to someone of notable, royal distinction. Mary had that going on as one set aside by the King of the Universe for a special station in life.
Yet from an Old Testament perspective there is a Zion, or Davidic dynasty, connection. The following verse from Pope Benedict XVI is pointed out also with that same Greek word, “Rejoice, daughter of Zion; shout, Israel…the king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst” (Zephaniah 14-17). Pope Benedict also states, “The essential reason for the daughter of Zion to rejoice is stated in the text itself; ‘the Lord is in your midst’. Literally it says: ‘he is in your womb’ (Pope Benedixt XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives).
What is being heralded in just that word alone is like a shorthand for God’s kingdom to come—- and is coming now in the Christmas Story.
Full of Grace— The original Greek is Kecharitomene, the perfect passive participle, shows a “completeness with a permanent result. Kecharitomene denotes continuance of a completed action” (H. W. Smyth, Greek Grammar [Harvard Univ Press, 1968], p. 108-109, sec 1852:b; also Blass and DeBrunner, p. 175). Or one can say she was too full of grace to have room for anything else. Therefore, to me, she stands as the perfect prototype, as the Theotokos (God-bearer as defined in the Council of Ephesus 431), and how the Bride of Christ is supposed to be. The words I have commented on here and others to come in the infancy era of indicate concretely she was without sin. The Early Church Fathers were unanimous on this point and also Reformation leaders like Luther.
“But the other conception, namely the infusion of the soul, it is piously and suitably believed, was without any sin, so that while the soul was being infused, she would at the same time be cleansed from original sin and adorned with the gifts of God to receive the holy soul thus infused. And thus, in the very moment in which she began to live, she was without all sin…(Martin Luther, Weimar edition of Martin Luther’s Works, English translation edited by J. Pelikan [Concordia: St. Louis], Volume 4, 694).
So here we have royalty for a grand scale and grace with even grander ramifications all set for an expanding influence as demonstrated further.
The Lord is with you…she was greatly troubled—- This is not a goose bump phrase. This phrase in the Old Testament was for servants of God like Moses, Joshua and David who would go into the land promised to them by covenant. They were used by God for natural warfare for that level of revelation in the Old Covenant. Mary was to be used, launched in the contexts of covenants, to expand God’s influence through a spiritual warfare but at that moment she did not know that. She just knew that this greeting indicated a level and form of influence beyond what she would think was her humble state in life could handle. So there was some awe there. Her scope of knowledge could only guess a troubling battle of flesh and steel like a Middle-Eastern Joan of Arc.
Do not be afraid, Mary… you have found favor with God. — Mary was full of grace but Gabriel elaborated that God’s favor for her and her mission was in grace to overflow by the direct hand of God with the undeniable fact that the source and summit of the grace and favor for her was external to her in God.
you will conceive— as the angel unfold’s God’s plan for her life there is a connection to the Incarnation. God would be with her, it would be form of warfare but it would be the Word made flesh.
you shall call his name Jesus—- Jesus means “God saves”. The Incarnation means salvation in some way yet to be revealed. The Word, dropping in behind enemy lines, is to save humanity.
He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High;—- Here is the framework in that it will be in the pattern of David as the throne is from David. This savior bring a visible kingdom and it would be consistent with the pattern of the Davidic dynasty.
and of his kingdom there will be no end—— The declaration of God Incarnate and being savior of the world happens within a framework of a kingdom that has no end and thus continues.
On the devotional side, how can a modern person relate to these lofty subjects? Well, we know through the rest of the story that Mary cooperated with a kingdom that is personal, holistic, authoritative and beyond our earthly limitations if seen by faith. God initiates to us for full participation. She was to carry God in her womb. If we respond in the same humility to the gospel of the kingdom, we carry Jesus in a different but substantial way. Possibly it is we who really can stop us from this encounter.